Friday, June 30, 2006

HUMOR - ......Well Sort Of

"Burning Flags" by Scott Adams, Dilbert Blog

I was delighted to learn that American politicians are trying to make it illegal to burn the American flag. That can only mean that my dedicated public servants have finally solved the problems of crime, drugs, war, poverty, terrorism, healthcare, immigration, and the mystery of why our children are such idiots compared to Norwegians. Evidently those issues are now under control. I was starting to worry that Congress was wasting my tax dollars doing stupid shit.

Yes, Scott is the writer of the "Dilbert" Cartoons

REALITY CHECK - Christians Don't Shoot Christians

The following comment caught my eye, time for a Reality Check.

"Town looks for answers in preacher's killing" by Ann O'Neill, CNN

"What would cause a Godly woman to do such a thing?" asked neighbor Sharon Everitt, echoing the question that has hung over the rural town since late March. "Christians don't shoot Christians."


  • Professed Christians are not shooting Christian doctors who work at "Abortion Clinics" aka Family Planing Clinics

  • Professed Christians, in the past, were not shooting Christians because they were black

  • In Kosovo "our" Christians were not "shooting" "their" Christians

  • ..etc.

Professing being a Christian does not automatically equal acting in a Christian manner. Christianity and its actions have a bloody history.

POLITICS - The Supreme Court on Guantanamo

Of course this is the big story of the day (6/29/2006).

"High court blocks Gitmo military tribunals" by Bill Mears, CNN

"In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the executive [Bush] is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction," Stevens wrote.

But what Stevens and the SC do not understand is King George doesn't have to comply with law. With a stroke of a pen, or Executive Order, he decrees law. Congress and the laws it passes, and our Constitution, are just window dressing. Sarcasm-off

Not hardly! Note that if Roberts had been allowed to vote, he still would be on the loosing side.

IRAQ - Hope Offstage, Finally

"Turning to the U.N., Again" by Richard Holbrooke, Washington Post

In a little-noticed announcement in President Bush's news conference on June 14, the day he returned from Iraq, he said that he would send two personal emissaries to New York to consult with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on the political and economic future of Iraq. The next day, still with remarkably little public attention, Philip Zelikow, the counselor of the State Department, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt met with Annan and his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, at the secretary general's Sutton Place residence. There was no one else present.

The two presidential envoys asked Annan to use his unique "convening powers" to help organize international meetings that would lead (by this fall, the Americans hope) to the unveiling of a new "Iraq Compact" -- an agreement between the Iraqi government and major international donors that would commit Baghdad to a series of political and economic reforms in return for substantially more international aid. (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Annan the same day to make an identical request.)

This is a good idea -- and quite similar to suggestions from many administration critics. With the battle for Baghdad raging, it remains to be seen whether an Iraq Compact will work -- or even get off the ground -- but it is certainly an important step in the right direction for Iraq and for American policy.

For Annan and the United Nations, Bush's request poses an ironic and difficult challenge. On the one hand, the administration is asking for help on the worst problem it faces, acknowledging, however belatedly and reluctantly, that once again, the United Nations is not only relevant but at times indispensable to the United States. On the other hand, the resentment among the majority of U.N. member states over the way the institution has been treated recently, especially by Washington's current U.N. ambassador, makes any effort to get the United Nations to help the United States far more difficult.

No kidding! We say we want international cooperation but the proceed to insult, ignore, and down-right slander the UN and individual member nations and are surprised that American policy does not get supported?! Our federal government seems to refuse to learn that you cannot get support and cooperation unless we give support/cooperate in return. We act as if we expect others to support our agenda but we can refuse to support any of their concerns in other areas, aka support is one-sided.

Then there's.....

How to treat the United Nations has been a particular dilemma for President Bush, since opponents of the organization form an important part of the administration's core constituency. Internal disagreements over the past five years about whether to support it or abandon it, to use it or bypass it, have both weakened the organization and led to reduced U.S. influence even as more and more intractable issues are thrown into its hands.

Our nation is paying the price for Bush arrogance = our way or no way.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

POLITICS - The Core of Liberalism


The core of liberalism is the idea that individuals (by virtue of being humans and having dignity) have a sphere of freedom that should be free from government intrusion. Logically following from this bedrock foundation are the other fundamental rights we know and love such as freedom of religion, democratic voting, rule-by-consent, rule of law, right to property, civil liberties, sexual freedom, and so on. All are rooted in the idea of individual freedom or individual consent.

Thus, one of the unifying characteristics of anti-liberalism (e.g., Marxism, religious fundamentalism, fascism) is skepticism and ultimately elimination of this sphere of freedom. To Marxists, the sphere of freedom (and the laws based upon it) facilitates inequality and gives the rich an “ideology” that allows them to protect their property. To religious fundamentalists, individual freedom runs counter to God’s will and must be subordinated to it. Fascism, by contrast, is a religious-like fundamentalism rooted not in God but the state, which essentially takes the place of God. Fascism thus subordinates individual and civil rights to the state, which is a glorified collective and deified entity superior to all other Gods before me nations, rather than a mechanism for protecting individual rights.

To be clear, I’m not accusing the entire American Right of being fundamentalist or fascist or any of the other labels that serve only to distract people from the merits of the debate. But what I am saying is that the American Right — including the Congress, the President, and its sympathetic media — is showing increasingly disturbing anti-liberal characteristics. In fact, anti-liberalism is poisoning the American Right, just as the dark side poisoned Anakin Skywalker.

So well put. Of course, as a Progressive (aka liberal) it states my own stance and ethical belief much better than I have.

Thanks Publius

POLITICS - From the Right, Dumb and Dumber

"American Exceptionalism" by Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online

I loathe the sort of commentary stories like this generate. It's all about how America contributes more greenhouse gasses than other countries. Okay, guilty as charged. It's not like these greenhouse gasses don't have a context. The American economy sustains the planet, pulls millions out of poverty, keeps the sea channels open, develops most of the medical breakthroughs, provides most of the funding for international institutions (including the finger-waggers at the UN's environmental divisions), offers the best higher education to the world's leaders, and generally provides a blanket of security for much of the planet. I could go on, but you get the point.

Hay! He's correct, greenhouse gasses do have a context. What he ignores is that global warming, where greenhouse gasses is the major contributor, will severely damage the world's economy, including America's. Dumb

He is also espousing, whether he knows it or not, that just because America is the "biggest kid on the block" (aka bully) we have a natural right to pollute our entire world. Dumber

The only "saving grace" of his post is the, "Okay, guilty as charged." Finally, someone from the right admits to a crime. The problem is, Americans and the world will have to face the judgment of Mother Nature (aka God) and the verdict may be very, very unpleasant.

REMINDER - America

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

First stanza, America the Beautiful

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

POLITICS - Another Day of Infamy

"6/27/06 - A Day That Will Go Down In Infamy" by davidsirota, Daily Kos

Very rarely in American history do moments come along when our Congress publicly and openly flaunts the fact that it has stopped even trying to pretend it cares about this country. Usually, the disdain lawmakers have for ordinary citizens and the nation's well being is hidden behind fake promises of altruism and idealism. But today is one of those truly rare moments - a moment that should go down in infamy for its nauseating candor.

Today, the United States Senate - supposedly the greatest deliberative body in the greatest representative democracy on the planet - spent its precious time having a heated debate over whether to amend the Constitution for the first time in a generation so as to ban flag burning. The U.S. House last year spent its precious time on the same issue. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, the admission of irresponsibility inherent in Congress spending time on this issue is truly historic. We are a nation that is in the throes of a very serious crisis - one that is costing us hundreds of lives every day. The numbers explain what I am talking about far better than prose.

Consider this - the U.S. Congress and cynical pundits and political operatives in Washington are polluting our country's political discourse with a debate over flag burning at the very same time that:

Mind you, these are but a few pieces of data quickly pulled from my new book, Hostile Takeover. They are tiny snippets in a blood-stained river of similar facts - facts that are similarly ignored by America's political Establishment. But quiet dismissal of life and death is one thing - openly substituting a discussion of life and death with a made-for-television spectacle about a fabricated "controversy" is altogether different.

There are truly no words for a Congress that would have the nerve to spend its time creating and then "debating" an "issue" like flag burning at a time when this is going on - especially when, last I checked, there is no plague of flag burning overtaking the country. But even if there was that plague, there still are no words to describe the irresponsibility and negligence of the cynical, soulless politicians who would allow such a debate to even take place when these life-and-death realities are unnecessarily unfolding before our eyes - realities that these politicians have the power to stop.

Our founding fathers would be ashamed. Our country's historical icons who fought to make this country great would be appalled. My own ancestors - who risked their lives to free themselves from tyranny, get to this country and help build it through public service - they would be disgusted. And the next generation will rightly look upon this day - and this era - as a humiliating cautionary tale in the history of a country that allowed the worst forms of greed and self-indulgence from the most vile political opportunists in both parties to imperil the very foundation this nation was built upon. They will wonder how we, the people, didn't all scream at Congress from the top of our lungs: "How dare you?"

I encourage readers to pass this message on to as many people as you know (email it, blog it, fax it, whatever) - because I suspect many Americans feel exactly the same way. Today, for the first time in my life, I am both embarrassed for my country, and fear for its future. Only a country that has a very serious disease within its political system could allow this to happen. And unless we stop denying the existence of that disease, unless we root out those within the system who are helping spread that disease, unless we cure ourselves of the germs in our Congress who would trumpet cynical gestures at a time when so many of our countrymen are unnecessarily dying - then, as much as it truly pains me to say it, America's days as the greatest country on Earth may indeed be numbered.

POLITICS - Are Americans Gullible

Are Americans so gullible that they believe that terrorists don’t already assume that the U.S. is spying on phone calls and bank transactions? If so, let’s just say that the terrorists aren’t as dumb as everyone who believes that the NY Times’ story gave information to the terrorists that they didn’t already have.

"GOP Threats to NY Times for Reporting on Transaction Monitoring Is Critical Threat to Free Press" BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS

It is hard to imagine that a group who has been so wrong about so many things could get so upset about someone looking over their shoulders. But that is just what is happening now that the Bush Administration and leading Republicans have criticized – and even called for a criminal investigation of – The New York Times for reporting on the secret monitoring of financial transactions across the globe.

If a terrorist group was so inept as to be previously unaware that the U.S. government was trying to monitor their monetary transactions, they probably were of little risk (like the Miami “terrorist wannabes” who allegedly wanted to blow up the Sears Tower with their invisible bombs).

The monitoring itself appears to be technically, or at least possibly, legal, although it is certainly troublesome for the billions of people around the globe who aren’t terrorists and don’t want to be spied on. However, it is the threats to the NY Times for doing its job that are most disturbing

The First Amendment explicitly protects not only freedom of speech, but freedom of the press. Our founders knew firsthand how dangerous it could be to have government censorship of newspapers. It is thus critically important that we have groups like the NY Times (and, of course, BuzzFlash) to spread information.

Obviously it could be dangerous to publicize specific details on government security matters, just like it is dangerous to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. However, The Times has threatened the War on Terror by breaking the story just as much as Bush does by repeating his threats about it, which is to say not at all.

Ultimately, we live in a democracy where the people get to decide who will represent them. While it would be convenient for Bush and Republicans in Congress to act in secret to remove any accountability for their actions, informed voting would be impossible.

We should be able to know what our elected officials are doing, and if they were doing a good job they would want us to know about it. How many times can they get away with just saying “trust us” when we already know that we can’t?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WORLD - Palestinian vs Israeli Situation

First off, this is my personal outlook on this issue and I am no means an expert. But having said that......

No matter what the world's leaders say, no matter what nation, there is only two "people" who can actually solve this issue.

This issue will be solved when:

  • The Palestinian people take control and stop actions against Israel. They cannot influence Israeli actions other than to inflame them.

  • The Israeli people take control and stop actions against Palestine. They cannot influence Palestinian actions other than inflame them.

Until both countries take control of their own people nothing will be solved. They are the only ones who can put a stop to this.

I am not hopeful.

AMERICAN SOCIETY - Social Isolation

"Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says" by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

The question is, can this be fixed? Do we need to fix it?

Monday, June 26, 2006

VOTE CALIFORNIA - Thumbs Up for California and Its Voters

This may be old news but worth noting as an example for other states.

"California Election to Provide E-voting Paper Trail" by MARC L. SONGINI, Computerworld

June 05, 2006 -- California tomorrow will become one of the first states to require that all voting machines produce a paper audit trail that can verify the accuracy of a tally.

The audit trail is required for Tuesday's primary vote to ensure that election officials adhere to a state law passed in 2005. The statute requires that the ballots of 1% of the votes cast in each precinct be manually tallied to ensure the accuracy of e-voting systems.

The new law expands on an earlier statute that requires voters using optical scan devices to also register their votes on paper so they can be audited. Now, all machines, including touch-screen systems, must compile a paper trail of votes.

"Every voting system in California will have a paper trail in 2006," the spokeswoman said. "Voters will have the opportunity to verify their vote via a paper record, which verifies that their vote cast was indeed the vote that was recorded."

Haas (Mikel Haas, Registrar of Voters) noted that the statute doesn't require that voters receive personal paper confirmation of their vote. It only requires that a printed record be retained in the voting machine for use in audits.

This is good news on the voter protection issue. The one fault I see, if you require a printed record for audits, why not give a copy to the voter?

POLITICS - Bush's War on Terrorism Wrong, Again

"Karzai Criticizes U.S.-Led Coalition" by TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer

President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S.-led coalition's anti-terror campaign Thursday, deploring the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and appealing for more help for his government.

Karzai's sharp assessment came as Osama bin Laden's deputy urged Afghans to revolt against coalition forces, and four more U.S. soldiers were killed.

More than four years after U.S.-led forces toppled the extremist Taliban government, Afghanistan is gripped by its deadliest spate of post-invasion violence. To try curb the bloodshed, more than 10,000 coalition forces have launched a major offensive against militants across southern Afghanistan. More than 600 people, mainly militants, have been killed since May.

But Karzai, who has previously scorned large-scale anti-militant campaigns, rejected the continued spilling of Afghan blood in military operations.

"It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. (Even) if they are Taliban, they are sons of this land," a clearly frustrated Karzai told reporters in Kabul.

Geewiz, guess what Bush, killing of a countries citizens is an unpopular idea. I doesn't win friends to our side when it goes too far in their evaluation. So staying the present course is your answer?

"Friendly nations" beware of Bush bearing gifts.

POLITICS - FTC Is Fighting Identity Theft... Well Maybe

"Government Hit by Rash of Data Breaches" by HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer

The government agency charged with fighting identity theft said Thursday it had lost two government laptops containing sensitive personal data, the latest in a series of breaches encompassing millions of people.

The Federal Trade Commission said it would provide free credit monitoring for 110 people targeted for investigation whose names, addresses, Social Security numbers - and in some instances, financial account numbers - were taken from an FTC attorney's locked car.

Duh! When are agencies going to realize that our personal data should not be taken out of agency's offices? The data should not be on any portable computer (laptops, notebooks, etc.). How many times do they, and private companies, have to be hit over the head with a 2-by-4 before they get it?!

Private personal data belongs only on highly secure servers that can be accessed only from equally secure desktop workstations at the office, period. This data should never be allowed to be copied to the workstation nor portable computer.

Inconvenience is not a reason to put your personal data at risk!

POLITICS - Tort Reform and Medical Malpractice

Abstract, New England Journal of Medicine, "Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation"

Background In the current debate over tort reform, critics of the medical malpractice system charge that frivolous litigation — claims that lack evidence of injury, substandard care, or both — is common and costly.

Methods Trained physicians reviewed a random sample of 1452 closed malpractice claims from five liability insurers to determine whether a medical injury had occurred and, if so, whether it was due to medical error. We analyzed the prevalence, characteristics, litigation outcomes, and costs of claims that lacked evidence of error.

Results For 3 percent of the claims, there were no verifiable medical injuries, and 37 percent did not involve errors. Most of the claims that were not associated with errors (370 of 515 [72 percent]) or injuries (31 of 37 [84 percent]) did not result in compensation; most that involved injuries due to error did (653 of 889 [73 percent]). Payment of claims not involving errors occurred less frequently than did the converse form of inaccuracy — nonpayment of claims associated with errors. When claims not involving errors were compensated, payments were significantly lower on average than were payments for claims involving errors ($313,205 vs. $521,560, P=0.004). Overall, claims not involving errors accounted for 13 to 16 percent of the system's total monetary costs. For every dollar spent on compensation, 54 cents went to administrative expenses (including those involving lawyers, experts, and courts). Claims involving errors accounted for 78 percent of total administrative costs.

Conclusions Claims that lack evidence of error are not uncommon, but most are denied compensation. The vast majority of expenditures go toward litigation over errors and payment of them. The overhead costs of malpractice litigation are exorbitant.

You can read the full article from the link in the abstract, but it requires online subscription to NEJM.

POLITICS - So, Is Homeland Security Making Your Community Safe?

"U.S. feud cuts flow of data on terror" by Siobhan Gorman, Baltimore Sun

Nearly five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security continue to clash over who is in charge of coordinating and vetting information on terrorism. As a result, state and local authorities continue to get conflicting or incomplete information - sometimes none at all - on threats inside the United States.

Surprise, surprise! The behemoth Homeland inSecurity suffers from typical "Bureaucratic Disease." Bloat and turf wars. Bigger is not necessarily better.

AMERICAN COMMUNITIES - The Disappearing Middle-Class Neighborhood

"U.S. Losing Its Middle-Class Neighborhoods" by Blaine Harden,Washington Post

Middle-class neighborhoods, long regarded as incubators for the American dream, are losing ground in cities across the country, shrinking at more than twice the rate of the middle class itself.

In their place, poor and rich neighborhoods are both on the rise, as cities and suburbs have become increasingly segregated by income, according to a Brookings Institution study released Thursday. It found that as a share of all urban and suburban neighborhoods, middle-income neighborhoods in the nation's 100 largest metro areas have declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000.

Widening income inequality in the United States has been well documented in recent years, but the Brookings analysis of census data uncovered a much more accelerated decline in communities that house the middle class. It far outpaced the decline of seven percentage points between 1970 and 2000 in the proportion of middle-income families living in and around cities.

Middle-income neighborhoods -- where families earn 80 to 120 percent of the local median income -- have plunged by more than 20 percent as a share of all neighborhoods in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. They are down 10 percent in the Washington area.

"It means that if you are not living in one of the well-off areas, you are not going to have access to the same amenities -- good schools and safe environment -- that you could find 30 years ago," said Alan Berube, an urban demographer at Brookings.

The decline of middle-income neighborhoods may also be a consequence of increased economic opportunity and residential mobility, especially for upper-income minorities, said Joel Kotkin, an urban historian and senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

The question is, just what is the actual cause? Is this a reflection of the widening gap in income aka economic class? The article does state that the issues exposed do need more study to clarify the issue.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

POLITICS - Cut-and-Run Liberals

"Cut-and-Run Liberal, and Proud of It" by Stephen Pizzo, News for Real

I want to be perfectly clear about this. We liberals really do want to cut and run.

I admit it. We are cut-and-run liberals, just as Karl Rove alleges. More than that, I am proud of it and encourage more Americans to join us.

We want to cut and run from the borrow and spend, borrow and spend economics of the GOP that have piled an additional $4 trillion in debt onto our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We want to cut and run from the unholy alliance between the GOP and energy companies that has left us at the mercy of a bunch of medieval Islamic tribal leaders who run their own countries like feudal states and treat their own people -- especially their women -- worse than Americans treat farm animals.

We want to cut and run from a national health care system designed by and for giant health care and pharmaceutical interests, that enriches a few while leaving 45 million Americans without affordable health insurance.

We want to cut and run from a government that, over the past six years, has become not only increasingly closed to public scrutiny and accountability, but overtly hostile and suspicious of citizens who insist on either.

We want to cut and run from a style of governance that not only plays on fear and petty prejudices, but cultivates and exploits them for cheap political gain.

There is more, check it out. We want an America that we can, once again, be proud of. An America where caring for individual people is more important than caring for corporations. An America where "protecting America" includes protecting individual human and Constitutional rights.

POLITICS - GOP, the Party of Corruption

Don't believe the Republican Party, while calming higher moral values, is the supporter of corruption in the federal government? The ripping off of the American taxpayer?

"GOP Kills Bill to Police Halliburton" by Bob Geiger, AlterNet

Republicans in Congress have made it clear they're willing to fight for military contractors' right to lie, cheat and defraud taxpayers.

While Democrats have been complaining for years about the GOP-led Congress abandoning its oversight of the executive branch's wrongdoing, a vote that took place in the Senate last week shows how the Republican desire to ignore fraud and abuse extends right into killing legislation that would help stop defense contractors from ripping off the American people.

And just what were the stern rules that the GOP didn't think their buddies at Halliburton should have to live with? The text of the legislation spelled out that Bush and Cheney's defense-contractor buddies would be in trouble if they did any of the following:

  • "Executes or attempts to execute a scheme or artifice to defraud the United States or the entity having jurisdiction over the area in which such activities occur."

  • "Falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact."

  • "Makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any materially false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry."

  • "Materially overvalues any good or service with the specific intent to excessively profit from the war or military action."

The measure called for those found guilty of violating the law to be imprisoned for up to 20 years and be subject to a fine of up to $1,000,000 -- a drop in the bucket for these guys -- or a percentage of their ill-gotten gains.

Is there any real doubt that the GOP is deep into the pockets of Halliburton and other big government contractors? That the GOP is doing everything is can to protect their big contributers from any oversight, American taxpayers be damn? Oh, almost forgot, our illustrious VP is honest and aboveboard "trust me"..... NOT!

POLITICS - House Republican Leaders at it Again

"House delays renewal of Voting Rights Act" by Laurie Kellman, Associated Press

House Republican leaders on Wednesday postponed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act after GOP lawmakers complained it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight.

"Unfairly!" Like hell. These Southern states and their actions against Black voters is the reason we had to pass this law in the first place. Now we are to just trust that they have changed their ways? Not hardly! Not in view of the ongoing racial problems, in many other areas, in these states.

If they are in fact in compliance with the law, why the complaint? Why would they fear federal oversight? Something to hide maybe?

Judge, not guilty, ignore my record, trust me. Ya, sure.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

IRAQ - Memo From U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

"'Wash Post' Obtains Shocking Memo from U.S. Embassy in Baghdad" by Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher Journal

The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked "sensitive," that it says shows that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, "the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees."

This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."

It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."

A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from "AMEmbassy Baghdad" on June 6. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad -- the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.

The subject of the memo is: "Snapshots from the Office -- Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord."

This article then continues with a list of "the other troubling reports." Suggest readers use the link above to read the details. We have a President, and an Administration, that continues telling us how "well" things are going in Iraq, even though they have also (finally) admitted that that there is more to do and it is going to be hard.

If what is happening in Iraq today is their definition of "going well" I would hate to see what would be actually happening on the ground if things were "going bad."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ANOTHER VIEW - A Good Question From India

"How good is US intelligence on Iran?" from The Statesman, one of India's oldest English newspapers founded 1875

While recognizing the "rays of optimism" of diplomatic efforts with Iran on their nuclear program, it asks a very pertinent question.....

Could the unanimity of American intelligence be “déjà vu all over again”, only the reverse of the Iraq WMD fiasco? In the lead-up to the Iraq war, American intelligence agencies expressed “high confidence” that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programmes.” They were dead wrong.

In the aftermath of that intelligence failure, the Silverman-Robb Commission examined the capacity of US intelligence agencies to assess WMD developments abroad. It concluded: “Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programmes of many of the world’s most dangerous actors.”

Consider also that members of the CIA have described the agency’s covert action abilities inside Iran from 2000 through 2004 as “unchanged: they’re zero”. As James Risen reports in State of War, a US intelligence blunder allowed Iranian security officials to “roll up” the American network of spies in Iran. Most important revelations on Iran’s nuclear programme have come either from informants who “walk in” to US embassies or from Iranian dissident groups with uncertain agendas.

This is a very good question. Should Americans take our Intelligence Community's evaluation of Iran's nuclear program at face value? What makes us think that their evaluation of Iran is any better that it was for Iraq before we attacked that country? Past performance is more valuable than today's promises.

Monday, June 19, 2006

OUR PLANET - At the Tipping Point

"Earth at the tipping point" Observer Guardian, UK

Strange days have reached Ny-Alesund, Europe's most northerly research station. Perched at the very edge of the continent, in Svalbard, Norway, a mere 600 miles from the North Pole, the centre's international scientists have been experiencing weather that is becoming increasingly unpredictable.

The archipelago should still be gripped by ice and screaming winds. But to their surprise, researchers have found conditions on Svalbard have been balmy and calm. Last month, Vigdis Tverberg of the Norwegian Polar Institute, reported that waters in the Kongsfjorden - the long strip of water that pokes eastwards into mainland Svalbard at Ny-Alesund - were now 2C warmer than they used to be a few years ago.

Two degrees may seem a modest rise, but the effects are profound, as Tverberg stressed: 'Normally, the temperature in the fjord would be close to freezing. This winter the cooling of the water has probably never been close enough to produce an ice cover.'

Thus a major strip of water, on a latitude parallel to the northernmost tip of Greenland, failed to produce a covering of ice this year. The inference is clear, say researchers. Global warming, driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is not only increasing air temperatures, it is causing the oceans to warm alarmingly.

For years, scientists have stressed the Arctic and the Antarctic are the most climatically sensitive parts of our planet. Global warming was always going to hit the poles with disproportionate severity, they said. Now those predictions are being proved correct, not just in the warming waters off Svalbard but in the melting glaciers of Greenland and the disappearing ice sheets of west Antarctica. In the case of Greenland, scientists at Nasa and the University of Kansas reported this year that previous estimates of the rate of melting of Greenland's glaciers had been too low and too optimistic in assuming it would take centuries to heat and melt its massive ice shield.

Instead, when Nasa's Eric Rignot, and Pannir Kanagaratnam, of Kansas University, studied Greenland's glaciers, they uncovered an unexpected effect. As air temperatures have risen - roughly 3C in the Arctic over the past two decades - the resulting meltwater has poured to the bases of glaciers and acted as a lubricant. Thus the marches to the sea of these great rivers of ice are being accelerated, raising the amount of ice dumped in the Atlantic each year from 100 cubic kilometres in 1996 to 220 last year.

Neither is the Antarctic exempt. In March, scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder, using satellites to monitor tiny fluctuations in Earth's gravity, concluded that the continent is now losing similar amounts of ice, about 150 cubic kilometres a year.

Yet there may be even more worrying, more serious effects triggered by the disappearance of the polar ice caps. Those vast sheets of bright, white ice make near-perfect mirrors that shine back 80 per cent of the sunlight that falls on them. Thus they help to keep our planet cool. This measure of reflectivity is known as albedo (from the Latin word for whiteness). A perfect reflector would have an albedo of 1.0, The albedo for polar ice is around 0.8. By contrast, the albedo for sea water is around 0.07.

The difference between these two figures is stark. Ice has one of the highest albedos of any substance on Earth, sea water has one of the lowest, so we are replacing our planet's best reflector with one of the worst.

And in America we have an Administration editing federal reports (by a non-scientist political hack) to downplay this issue. You still hear the chant from the far-right Republicans that Global Warming is unsupported by present evidence and needs "more study." They are in total denial and we are running out of time to do anything meaningful.

Friday, June 16, 2006

POLITICS - Three Cheers For Australia

The following is from an email that is going around:

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.

A day after a group of mainstream Muslim leaders pledged loyalty to Australia at a special meeting with Prime Minister John Howard, he and his ministers made it clear that extremists would face a crackdown.

Treasurer Peter Costello, seen as heir apparent to Howard, hinted that some radical clerics could be asked to leave the country if they did not accept that Australia was a secular state and its laws were made by parliament. "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you," he said on national television.

"I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that is false. If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country, which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said.

Asked whether he meant radical clerics would be forced to leave, he said those with dual citizenship could possibly be asked to move to the other country.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson later told reporters that Muslims who did not want to accept local values should "clear off."

"Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off," he said. Separately, Howard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying he supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques.



IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT. Take It Or Leave It, I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.

However, the dust from the attacks had barely settled when the "politically correct" crowd began complaining about the possibility that our patriotism was offending others. I am not against immigration, nor do I hold a grudge against anyone who is seeking a better life by coming to Australia.

However, there are a few things that those who have recently come to our country, and apparently some born here, need to understand.

This idea of Australia being a multicultural community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. As Australians, we have our own culture, our own society, our own language and our own lifestyle.

This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, Learn the language!

Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push but a fact because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, Because God is part of our culture.

We will accept your beliefs and will not question why, all we ask is that you accept ours and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.

If the Southern Cross offends you, or you don't like "A Fair Go", then you should seriously consider a move to another part of this planet.

We are happy with our culture and have no desire to change, and we really don't care how you did things where you came from. By all means keep your culture but do not force it on others.

This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, "THE RIGHT TO LEAVE."

If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.

There is one misconception the poster seems to make; the "Most Australians believe in God" paragraph above. Muslims do believe in God, it is just that in their language "Allah" is the same as our English "God."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

HEALTHCARE - What American Really Want

"Health Care Solutions- What American Want" by Ken Grandlund, Bring It On

In Ken's post he refers to an Online Health Care Poll with interesting results, with over 10,500 responses.

While the Republican controlled Congress spends their days on our dime bantering about issues of vital importance like gay marriage, flag burning, and killing the death tax, average Americans all over the country are weighing in on an issue that really matters to them, to us all. And that issue is health care. Health care is not an issue with theological implications (well, maybe for a few), so the debate about what kind of health care system we want does not fall apart along religious arguments. Instead, the divide in the health care debate is about money. Who pays and who profits? And it is also about quality and availability of health care. But mostly, it’s about money.

Health care costs have been growing at a rate that far out paces inflation for several years now. Yet in communities across the nation, hospitals are closing or reducing services. A shortage of qualified nurses and doctors increases the time it takes to see a medical professional. Premiums for coverage, doctor visits, medicines, and diagnostics are going up. These factors affect health care consumers on a daily basis. That’s you and me. Mom and Grandpa. The neighbor lady and the kid who cuts the lawn. Everyone.

And yet on the other side of the coin, pharmaceutical companies are getting richer and richer while plying their designer drugs on a public all too conditioned to expect a little pill for a quick fix to what ails them. Pharmacists are refusing to fill legally prescribed medicines because of ‘moral issues.’ Accountants are deciding what a patient ‘really needs’ instead of letting doctors do their jobs. And politicians are trying to play God by sticking their noses in issues they have no sense being involved in, like the right to die or the course of medical research.

Summary of Online Health Care Poll:

  • 80% strongly agree that it should be public policy that all Americans have affordable health care insurance or other coverage.

  • 85% believe that everyone should be provided with coverage for health care, for a defined level of benefits by either expanding the current system or creating a new one.

  • When asked which services should be included in a Basic or Essential coverage package:

  • - 93% want annual physicals and preventive care
    - 71% want more community based services for people with disabilities
    - 81% want dental care included
    - 87% want doctors office visits included
    - 90% want to include emergency room visits
    - 71% want home health care79% want vision care
    - 92% want to include hospital stays

The list goes on, but the message is clear- most Americans want a comprehensive medical care program for everyone. And they are willing to compromise too.

There’s more to read in the survey, and you can even add you own thoughts to the ongoing poll. You can also submit your own thoughts on health care to the group by the end of August 2006.

So now is the time to make our wants known. Write your Senators and Representative.

Monday, June 12, 2006

IRAQ - Zarqawi... View From -Girl Blog From Iraq-

Zarqawi... Saturday, June 10, 20

So 'Zarqawi' is finally dead. It was an interesting piece of news that greeted us yesterday morning (or was it the day before? I've lost track of time…). I didn't bother with the pictures and film they showed of him because I, personally, have been saturated with images of broken, bleeding bodies.

The reactions have been different. There's a general consensus amongst family and friends that he won't be missed, whoever he is. There is also doubt- who was he really? Did he even exist? Was he truly the huge terror the Americans made him out to be? When did he actually die? People swear he was dead back in 2003… The timing is extremely suspicious: just when people were getting really fed up with the useless Iraqi government, Zarqawi is killed and Maliki is hailed the victorious leader of the occupied world! (And no- Iraqis aren't celebrating in the streets- worries over electricity, water, death squads, tests, corpses and extremists in high places prevail right now.)

I've been listening to reactions- mostly from pro-war politicians and the naïveté they reveal is astounding. Maliki (the current Iraqi PM) was almost giddy as he made the news public (he had even gone the extra mile and shaved!). Do they really believe it will end the resistance against occupation? As long as foreign troops are in Iraq, resistance or 'insurgency' will continue- why is that SO difficult to understand? How is that concept a foreign one?"

A new day for Iraqis" is the current theme of the Iraqi puppet government and the Americans. Like it was "A New Day for Iraqis" on April 9, 2003 . And it was "A New Day for Iraqis" when they killed Oday and Qusay. Another "New Day for Iraqis" when they caught Saddam. More "New Day" when they drafted the constitution… I'm beginning to think it's like one of those questions they give you on IQ tests: If 'New' is equal to 'More' and 'Day' is equal to 'Suffering', what does "New Day for Iraqis" mean?

How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."

So now that Zarqawi is dead, and because according to Bush and our Iraqi puppets he was behind so much of Iraq's misery- things should get better, right? The car bombs should lessen, the ethnic cleansing will come to a halt, military strikes and sieges will die down… That's what we were promised, wasn't it? That sounds good to me. Now- who do they have to kill to stop the Ministry of Interior death squads, and trigger-happy foreign troops?

POLITICS - We Have Lost Our Way

"What are we for?" by by Jack Lessenberry, Detroit Metro Times

When asked, the Bush administration says we need to stay in Iraq until there is a stable (puppet) government running the place. Nice theory. Unfortunately, the scientists say we only have a few billion more years before the sun burns out and life on Earth becomes extinct.

Nothing about our presence in Iraq makes any sense, in other words, except for the fact that we want its oil. We never should have been there; we shouldn't be there now, and every day we stay makes it worse.

So why doesn't everyone realize this?

Simple. We have lost our way. We have lost sight of, or forgotten, what America is supposed to be. That's why we are invading small countries while ripping ourselves up at home, shipping jobs overseas, blaming workers for the failures and greed of management, blaming illegal immigrants, blaming the powerless.

Corporations lay off thousands, report record profits and talk nonsense about "the need to compete in the global economy."

And almost nobody protests this. Well, it is about time someone did.

Yet let us first remember what America was supposed to be. Once upon a time it was a country that knew it was supposed to stand for religious freedom and tolerance.

That doesn't mean that we always practiced what we preached. But there was an ideal, and people knew what it was. It was also supposed to be a nation where everybody with a dream could work hard and hope to see it come true. And part of the magic was realizing that we were all in it together. That America became an incredibly rich country that was supposed to care about not only its own people but also the world.

Forty-five years ago, a young, brilliant and far-seeing new president sketched out what that dream ought to have meant for the world.

"To the peoples in the huts and the villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves for whatever period is required."

John F. Kennedy also, in that famous speech, the first he ever made as president, made a special pledge to South America, "to convert our good words into good deeds — in a new alliance for progress — to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty."

Most of his inaugural address was not about life here at home, but it was clear he, and the better Americans of his generation, had a vision for that too. Yes, this was supposed to be a place where you could get rich.

But not by destroying your neighbor's ability to make a living and sending his job off to China. Nor did having a flourishing private sector mean that you couldn't have a necessary public sector as well.

What we had, they used to tell us with some pride, was a mixed economy. Everything wasn't owned by the state, comrade, and big business wasn't allowed to control everything either.
Capitalist society needs a dose of socialism — as in having governments that take care of the roads, the sewers and water systems — and have a vested interest in protecting the environment and education.

The goal should be as good a life as possible for everyone — here, and to the extent we can help, across the globe.

How's that for a political ideal?

Naturally, the Kennedy administration made tons of mistakes, and the biggest of all lay in a mistake very much like Iraq. We will, JFK famously also said, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."

King George most likely believes he is living up to the American ideal, then again that is what delusions are all about. The problem is the American People are paying the price. In lives lost, and money waisted, and the loss of our reputation around the world.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

POLITICS - The Leadership Vacuum - View From the Past

"Where have all the leaders gone?" by Ed Garvey, The Capital Times

Something has gone wrong in this country and it is difficult to figure out how and when we got so far off track. We have always been the model to the world with our egalitarian ethic and our can-do attitude. Together, we won World War II, we rebuilt Western Europe, and we built the finest public education system in the world.

We believed in a middle class society, which honored work more than wealth and where every kid had a chance to run for president or rise from a position in the mailroom to head the corporation. We enjoyed paying taxes as our ante to the democracy game. Our tax dollars made us participants in the goal of improving the commonwealth.

We didn't have so many material things but we helped our neighbors. Older citizens with children grown and out of the house voted in favor of new schools because we all believed that each generation of Americans should be better than the last.

When it came to war, a young man's choices were to be drafted or enlist. One thing for sure. If our country went to war, we were all part of the war effort. And those who didn't go into the Army sacrificed in other ways. It was a total effort.

This is the America I remember from childhood. True, this is an idealistic view but representative of how we felt about America then.

So the question is, what has happened? Where did all the hatred, anti-this anti-that, America only for "approved" people, unbridled greed, come from?

Where are the leaders that can really bring back the feeling of America as all-inclusive and respectful of every citizen's human rights even if we don't personally like them?

Looking for a leader to bring our country home,
reunite the red, white and blue before it turns to stone.
Lookin' for somebody young enough to take it on,
clean up the corruption and make the country strong.
America has a leader but he's not in the house,
he's walkin' here among us and we've got to seek him out.
Neil Young

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

POLITICS - Echos of the SS

"Gagged Library Exec Speaks Out" by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive

George Christian is the executive director of Library Connection, Inc., a nonprofit cooperative of more than two dozen public and academic libraries in Connecticut.

Last summer, his office got an odd call. It wasn’t from a co-op member.

And it wasn’t from a library patron. It was from the FBI.

One of Christian’s staff answered the phone and then brought him the news.

“We got a call from the FBI, they want to send us something called a National Security Letter, and they asked who to address it to, and I told them you,” the staffer informed Christian, he recalls.

“I thought, National Security what? What’s a National Security Letter?

Until that moment, I’d never heard those three words, National Security Letter. I never knew there was such a thing. I had no inkling whatsoever,” Christian says.

These letters are an extraordinarily powerful tool in the hands of the FBI. Basically, they amount to subpoenas the Justice Department issues by itself, without having to go to a judge for approval. When they were first authorized in the 1970s, the FBI was required to have “ ‘specific and articulable’ reasons to believe the records it gathered in secret belonged to a terrorist or spy,” Barton Gellman reported for The Washington Post on November 6, 2005. But thanks to the Patriot Act, the FBI can slap these letters not only on terrorist suspects but on anyone who is “relevant” to a national security investigation, even those “who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies,” Gellman wrote. The Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to use these National Security Letters to obtain “transactional records” from financial institutions. And the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act expanded the scope of these letters beyond financial institutions to include car dealers, travel agents, real estate agents, pawnbrokers, and others. The FBI is churning these National Security Letters out at the rate of 30,000 a year, Gellman discovered.

That specific letter (delivered by FBI Agents), according to Gellman, sought “all subscriber information, billing information, and access logs of any person” who used a specific computer at a nearby library.

“The first intimidating thing was the fact that this letter made really clear that I could discuss receipt of this letter with no one,” he says. “And the second thing was the good cop, bad cop routine. One FBI agent was professionally dressed, in a coat and tie, and was mild-mannered, and the other one was casually dressed and muscular and didn’t speak much at all.”

Hay, Christian , what's the matter? This is the FBI after all. Why do you feel intimidated by these agents that delivered the letter? This was not Don Vito Corleone's lawyer and a goon attempting extortion.... uh..... wait a minute.

This is another example of, under the guise of National Security, actions by federal law enforcement are fast approaching what the Nazi SS did in Germany. All that the SS did was always coached as national security, for the good of the German people. At least until the German people realized that each and everyone of them was in danger of being watched and/or "taking away" by the SS.

Now, today, the question for Americans is, just when are we going to wakeup and stop this? Or are we so afraid the we willingly give up our Constitutional and human rights?

POLITICS - Decoding the Religious-Right Agenda

"Decoding the 'Marriage Protection Amendment'" by Steve Horowitz, Counterbias

Once again, George Bush lifts his leg on the tree of liberty

Conservatives love their code words. But then, they need them. They can't call their priorities what they are: intolerance masquerading as morality. So their propagandists devise signifiers like "traditional values," and conservatives claim all "values" for themselves, because apparently only they know what the traditions are.

Or they call themselves pro-life, when the only thing they're pro- is their own personal opinions being shoved down the throats of everyone else.

Being forced to acquiesce in prayer at school, even if it contradicts your beliefs? "Honoring God."

Then there's my favorite: "judicial activism," at best an expansive catch-all covering any court decision they disagree with, at worst an attack on the very concept of judicial review.

Of course, this week you'll be hearing a lot about the "Marriage Protection Amendment," as the Senate debates a resolution that has no chance of passing. "Marriage protection" is a code phrase implying, as Social Security "reform" implied that something was wrong with it, that marriage is in mortal danger -- the danger being the possibility of the lesbian couple in that nice house down the block having their love and legal rights officially recognized.

The threat is so dire, apparently, that the president of the United States, with his characteristic courage, has to tackle it head-on. As he said in his June 3 radio address:

"Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith."

Okay, if you say so ...

"Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society."

Can't really argue that ...

"Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society."


Who's arguing for marriage to be cut off from its roots? Isn't gay marriage an offshoot, a new branch, so to speak, of this ever-growing, evergreen, apparently tree-like institution?

See, this is where the "values" fanatics lose me. They want me to think that queers are out to chop down the marriage tree, when it seems to me they admire it so much that they want to enjoy its shade like everybody else.

(I apologize for overdoing the botanical metaphors, but that damn Bush {oops!} started it.)

Problem is, conservatives don't like to share. That would mean that other people -- different kinds of people, with different beliefs and priorities -- are as deserving of life's blessings as they are. Goodbye, feelings of righteousness and superiority. Hello, unrestricted Jeffersonian liberty.

And if values voters can't feel self-righteous and superior, what's left for them? Only the fleeting consolation that their president, with his poll numbers at Nixonian lows and midterms looming, is finally pandering to them, his once-trusting base, once again -- by appealing to their basest instincts, by not only excusing and promoting bigotry and intolerance, but by again denigrating a co-equal branch of government:

"In a free society, decisions about such a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people -- not by the courts. The American people have spoken clearly on this issue, both through their representatives and at the ballot box ... Today, 45 of the 50 states have either a state constitutional amendment or statute defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. These amendments and laws express a broad consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage ... An amendment to the Constitution is necessary because activist courts have left our nation with no other choice," he said in his Saturday radio address, unaware in his unabashed ignorance that, as "activist courts" proved during the civil rights era, one of the most important functions of the judiciary is to guard against what De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill called "the tyranny of the majority."

But then, "values voters" find such subtleties irksome. And a simpleton like George W. Bush is simply incapable of comprehending them. What the uniter-not-divider, our esteemed decider, does understand is hate. And fear. Which is how the worst in us got us our worst president.

"As this debate goes forward, we must remember that every American deserves to be treated with tolerance, respect and dignity," Bush said Saturday.

Right, George. You are so full of fertilizer.

POLITICS - Time to Learn the Sobering Lessons From Our Folly

"Blame is for God and Little Children" by Steven Laffoley, Common Dreams

"Blame," wrote novelist Dalton Trumbo, "is for God and little children." I have always believed these to be good and wise words to live by. But today, sitting at my desk, writing these words, I am struggling with the desire to blame and the desire to punish.

The bold emphases is mine. Steven then goes on to list those he wants to blame and punish for the recently revealed murders by American solders in Iraq, but he ends with....

With tears welling in my eyes, and rage boiling in my heart, I want to blame and punish them all.

But I can't, because I am reminded of other words, also good and wise: "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone" - Christ's admonition about blame and punishment.

Consider: didn't we, twice, elect this president? Didn't we, for so long, overwhelmingly support this war? Didn't we, with our yellow-ribbon stickers, "proudly" support these troops? Didn't we, by ignoring the endless rush of executive-branch crimes, refuse to impeach this president for lying and for stealing and for cheating the American people? And didn't we, by remaining silent and electing war-mad politicians, refuse to bring home our troops?

I ask myself: honestly, who is to blame for the murder of those children? Who, among us, is without sin?

I remember again Dalton Trumbo's words: "Blame is for God and little children."

And I think: as we awake to the dark truth about our war with Iraq; and as we begin, honestly, to survey the damage that we, as Americans, have done there and around the world; and as we solemnly bury the dead and heal the wounds that our own hands have created, is it not time to put down our stones, to put away our blame, and to learn the sobering lessons from our folly?

Let's hope so.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

POLITICS - "Christian Nationalism" aka Christian Theocracy

"Tyranny of the Christian Right" by Michelle Goldberg, AlterNet

The largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- evangelical Christianity -- has set out to destroy secular society.

It's one thing to have a government that shows contempt for civil liberties; America has survived such men before. It's quite another to have a mass movement -- the largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- rise up in opposition to the rights of its fellow citizens. The Constitution protects minorities, but that protection is not absolute; with a sufficiently sympathetic or apathetic majority, a tightly organized faction can get around it.

The mass movement I've described aims to supplant Enlightenment rationalism with what it calls the "Christian worldview." The phrase is based on the conviction that true Christianity must govern every aspect of public and private life, and that all -- government, science, history and culture -- must be understood according to the dictates of scripture. There are biblically correct positions on every issue, from gay marriage to income tax rates, and only those with the right worldview can discern them. This is Christianity as a total ideology -- I call it Christian nationalism. It's an ideology adhered to by millions of Americans, some of whom are very powerful. It's what drives a great many of the fights over religion, science, sex and pluralism now dividing communities all over the country.

Note that this is what Fundamentalist Islam espouses, a world where Islamic Law governs everything. This is the view Muslim Terrorists fight for. So, doesn't that make Evangelical Christianity the equivalent, Christian Terrorists? People who want to make America a Christian Theocracy (an Evangelical one at that)?

I am not suggesting that religious tyranny is imminent in the United States. Our democracy is eroding and some of our rights are disappearing, but for most people, including those most opposed to the Christian nationalist agenda, life will most likely go on pretty much as normal for the foreseeable future. Thus for those who value secular society, apprehending the threat of Christian nationalism is tricky. It's like being a lobster in a pot, with the water heating up so slowly that you don't notice the moment at which it starts to kill you.

If current trends continue, we will see ever-increasing division and acrimony in our politics. That's partly because, as Christian nationalism spreads, secularism is spreading as well, while moderate Christianity is in decline. According to the City University of New York Graduate Center's comprehensive American religious identification survey, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians has actually fallen in recent years, from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001. The survey found that the largest growth, in both absolute and percentage terms, was among those who don't subscribe to any religion. Their numbers more than doubled, from 14.3 million in 1990, when they constituted 8 percent of the population, to 29.4 million in 2001, when they made up 14 percent.

"The top three 'gainers' in America's vast religious marketplace appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion," the survey found. (The percentage of other religious minorities remained small, totaling less than 4 percent of the population).

This is a recipe for polarization. As Christian nationalism becomes more militant, secularists and religious minorities will mobilize in opposition, ratcheting up the hostility. Thus we're likely to see a shrinking middle ground, with both camps increasingly viewing each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension and contempt.

Christian nationalist symbolism and ideology will increasingly pervade public life. In addition to the war on evolution, there will be campaigns to teach Christian nationalist history in public schools. An elective course developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a right-wing evangelical group, is already being offered by more than 300 school districts in 36 states. The influence of Christian nationalism in public schools, colleges, courts, social services and doctors' offices will deform American life, rendering it ever more pinched, mean, and divided.

There's still a long way, though, between this damaged version of democracy and real theocracy. Tremendous crises would have to shred what's left of the American consensus before religious fascism becomes a possibility. That means that secularists and liberals shouldn't get hysterical, but they also shouldn't be complacent.


POLITICS - George W. Bush Is Not a Conservative

First, I am not a Conservative, and never have been, even though I am an ex-Republican who mistakenly (and very regretfully) voted for Bush in 2000. The following is from "President's Con-Game Conservatism" by Bill Gallagher, has points to make about the Bush brand of conservatism.

Sure, they like to call themselves that and see political advantage in using the label. But the truth is, the Busheviks' only real ideology is gaining and keeping power to protect and enhance their wealth.

They repeatedly reject traditional conservative principles and beliefs to pursue the narrowest of interests at the expense of the common good. They routinely assault the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.

Just ask Richard A. Viguerie, the right-wing direct-mail guru and "funding father" of modern conservatism. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Viguerie wrote, "Sixty-five months into Bush's presidency, conservatives feel betrayed."

Viguerie also has a good handle on how the Busheviks are so entwined with crony capitalism: "Their agenda comes from Big Business, not from grassroots conservatives." While giving lip service to keeping government off the backs of businesses, the Busheviks want government in bed with their enterprises.

Two of the most favored have been Halliburton and Enron. During the 2000 vice presidential debates, quasi-Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman noted that Vice President Dick Cheney had done very well financially as CEO of Halliburton during the Clinton years. "You're better off than you were eight years ago," Lieberman quipped. Cheney replied that "the government had absolutely nothing to do" with his financial success.

Can you imagine a Halliburton business plan without no-bid, cost-plus military contracts and government loan guarantees? Cheney and his company made fortunes and continue to, and the government has had absolutely everything to do with it.

These guys don't want free enterprise. They want a free lunch with the taxpayers picking up the tab. Conservative businessmen? Skilled entrepreneurs? My ass. They're on the dole, corporate welfare queens feeding at the trough their political influence provides.

Prime example Enron:

Bush's buddy "Kenny Boy" Lay is going to the slammer for his crimes when he ran Enron into the ground and cheated employees and shareholders to the tune of $6 trillion. Lay is the personification of Bush's kind of businessman -- heavy on influence, low on ability.

Lay, of course, helped Cheney shape the national energy policy. They did it entirely out of the public eye, in closed White House meetings where they hatched their plans to use the powers of government to further enrich energy companies and screw consumers.

Greg Palast of Britain's Observer calls Lay the "Al Capone of electricity," who controlled and manipulated the "free" market to fix California energy prices, robbing from the ratepayers to line Enron's pockets.

Lay could not have pulled off his heist without accomplices in the White House. Within 72 hours of his inauguration, Bush "issued an executive order lifting the Clinton Energy Department's effective ban on speculative trading in the California power market," Palast wrote.

The deregulation made the state a wild free-for-all. The greedy manipulators could artificially create a crisis and then profit from the mess they had deliberately created. At one point, Enron "sold" the state 500 megawatts of electricity to go over a 15-megawatt line.

"Enron knew that sending that much power through those wires would have burned them to a crisp. To prevent this Enron-designed blackout, the state scrambled for other sources of electricity, which Enron and friends sold them at big mark-up," Palast wrote.

Remember "Aunt Milly" (in California) recorded comment from Enron employees?

Also, the Bush "Justice" Department prevented California from suing to get back the ill-gotten overcharges due to Enron's manipulations. Reason, "buyers beware" excuse, after all California Governor Gray Davis did sign the contracts. Humm... Gray Davis, Democrat, would a Republican Governor have had a better chance to sue?

These crooks are not free-market, hardworking risk-takers, the business types conservatives revere. Al Capone never had the White House doing his bidding. He robbed and killed the old-fashioned way. Lay and his ilk get their whores in government to do their dirty work.